How to Get Rid of Squatters

Last updated on December 28, 2015 by

SquattersWhen your tenant remains on your property without paying rent, he’s called a holdover tenant, also known as a tenancy at sufferance.

But you can also consider him to be a squatter – a person who unlawfully occupies property you own.

Sometimes squatters hold a certain attitude, as if they have rights to your property. And depending on the circumstances, and the local laws, they sometimes do.

That’s right! If a squatter has been allowed to occupy a property for some time, they might have the same landlord-tenant rights as holdover tenants.

Some jurisdictions are friendlier to squatters than others are. San Francisco, for example, has a tenants’ union that helps squatters stay on your property.

A Common Problem

Pay attention to this case, particularly if you live in the California:

What about Trespassers?

Let’s say you have rental property that has been vacant and you haven’t been to visit it for a while. When you do go … surprise! You find some uninvited and unwelcome residents living there. Can you kick them out?

It depends. In some cities, if squatters turned on utilities at that address in their name, they might be able to claim residency. Even though these people are stealing your property, the police consider this a civil, not a criminal, matter.

To get the squatters out, you would need to open a court case. Fun, huh? You probably know that most court systems aren’t exactly the epitome of efficiency. The case could take months or even years to resolve.

This is the dark side of landlording, and it’s a huge flaw in the justice system.

What You Can’t Do

If you find an unwelcome squatter living on your property or if you have a tenant who stopped paying rent, you can’t do the following:

  • Put padlocks on the place to keep him out
  • Shut off utilities
  • Try to intimidate him in any way

Courts could view those acts as self-help, or illegal, and could fine you.

Regarding shutting off utilities, it’s probably better to keep them on anyway. Your squatter might improvise by using candles that could start a fire. He also might continue to use the bathroom facilities … even when they aren’t working. Enough said there.

What You Should Do

Try to avoid a squatter situation from happening. If you plan to leave your property vacant, make sure that it’s secure. You or a property management company should also check on the place regularly.

If you already have a squatter, here’s what you could do:

  1. Call the Police
    Act immediately if you discover a squatter by calling the police. The longer you wait, the more likely it will be for the courts to think you gave this person consent to be there. If the police declare this a civil matter and won’t remove the squatter, start the eviction process.
  2. Give Notice, and then File an Unlawful Detainer action
    Once you serve the eviction notice, you could get lucky, and the squatter might leave. If not, you’ll need to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, which is the formal way to evict. Make sure you follow your state’s laws.
  3. Hire the Sheriff to Force the Squatter Out
    If the squatter is still sticking around after you’ve won your lawsuit, you’ll need to pay for a sheriff or police officer to get him out.
  4. Legally Handle the Abandoned Personal Property
    Find out what you can and cannot do with any stuff the squatter might have left behind. You probably can’t just get rid of it and would need to follow proper procedure for your jurisdiction. Many times, you can place it in a storage unit at the tenant’s expense. If they don’t pay to remove the items, the storage facility will auction it off.

Conclusion

Property owners need to do what they can to protect themselves against squatters.

Unfortunately, the law favors squatters by treating them as tenants even though this is unfair to owners. It places the hardship on legal owners instead of on wrongful squatters. Until there are laws that give landlords immediate relief and that punish the squatters, we’ll see this problem continue.

Have you ever had a problem with a squatter? If so, share your story in the comments below.

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256 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Stephanie Littles

    I rented to a women with a child. But, I am not the owner of the house. I am renting the house. Just renting 1 of my bedroom. The Roomer was taken to Housing court. We had a Stipulation agreement. The Date of the eviction has past. She has moved some of her stuff out. But her legal aid called the Marshall’s to ask what is the status of the warrant. She hasn’t arrested for more time. I am very leary of her. Her mom has came to visit with her twice. She hasn’t paid rent in 6 months. I told her just leave with your money. But, My Apartment has a program attached, to help pay my rent. The Warrant will be served. Soon. What can she do next. I need to be Perpared. I made a Bad Mistake. :-(

  • Stephanie Calla

    I rented my apt to a woman d her 2 kids for 1 week in February while she was between places. She paid me for that week, then requested to extend for a month, telling the repairs in her new apt were not finished yet. I let my guards down and i accepted because I was not planning on getting my next tenant until April. I didn’t think for one second the stay would go over 30 days and put me at high risk. Her cc was declined and she gave me stories, I waited some time as initially she didn’t give me signs to worry too much that she wouldn’t pay or leave. On march 24th, we started to have issues as I demanded payment. She refused, never left and never paid. I’m going to court for holdover now and im in a terrible situation now.

  • Henry

    What a shame to invest in California, save your money and your sanity. Like you said the system is in support of the squatters. Not only they hijaked my building for months now, I also spent over a 1k lawyer fees, got eviction then the squatter moved into another vacant unit, He forged a bill and now the Sheriff tells me I have to go to court again, means another months of lawsuit and lawyers fees. I lost tenants, the adjacent unit got broken into and cleaned the contents. My manger can not go to the building for he constantly gets harassed by the squatter. I think enough said, I will loose my building and I feel helpless. Governor Brown is running around in his yoga pj while we are losing our life savings. No mas Fresno!!

  • Femi Ige

    I have a squatter living in a property that was left in the care of my two younger brothers who are co-owners inherited from our mother who passed. I had been away (incarcerated) for some years and the Brothers since left the city of the property (Philadelphia) and moved to California somewhere with a so-called tenent who pays no rent bearing the property. At this time I live in public assistive housing, unreasonably, and just want our family home back for residency. The two brothers are highly unlikely to contest. What do I do now, what is the best process. The squatter claims “permission” from one of the Brothers, but certainly does not have my own. Any help?

  • Walk

    My brother rented a room to this girl and her kids while his mother was in the hospital. This girl moved in with her kids and brought boyfriend too and they scared him off with threats to beat him up with a baseball bat. He vacates the property and they live there for months not paying rent. We started the eviction but it has given us financial hardship because the are contesting it. This law needs to change it has become a money maker for the courts. The owners are the only one being hurt this not justice. I would like to work with anyone who feels we can get this law changed.These people have the audacity to believe they belong there without paying RENT.

  • christina del valle

    I live with my husband soon to be ex. He has a girlfriend and two other kids by her. She left cause of cps but she threatened to kill my kids. She left he came home now he back at living in my house for free wont pay for any rent wont pay for utilities and he wont leave what can i do? He has made threats to my older kids and he denies everything

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